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Inside: November 20, 2020 – Staff Trouble at The Ringer, Refer-o-Matic, A YouTube for Audio

Trouble at The Ringer. Ten days ago, Nick noted in an Insider that there had been “a boomlet of intriguing podcast-related departures from The Ringer in recent days”, with Jason Concepcion leaving for Crooked Media and Haley O’Shaughnessy joining Blue Wire Podcasts. Now we’ve got a bit more insight into what has been going on at the Spotify-owned outfit, via this New York Times article.

There are a couple of different issues raised in that piece. Firstly, one that will be familiar to anyone who has been a staffer at a media company of any kind that starts bringing in starry outside talent as contractors: there’s a sense in which it closes off the career opportunities for full time employees to grow within the company.

I’ve observed this dynamic from within myself more than once, and I’ve seen the profoundly negative effect on morale it can have. Once upon a time it was newspapers making splashy columnist acquisitions rather than nurturing in-house writers; now it’s audio startups hiring sportspeople and reality TV contestants to host podcasts rather than promoting from within their own ranks. And while the conventional wisdom persists that a celebrity hosted podcast is more of a “sure thing” for a publisher than other types of podcast, this dynamic is not going to go away. If anything, more companies are going to experience it.

The second issue concerns pay and unionisation, of course. Concepcion and O’Shaughnessy both left after pay disputes, according to Ringer employees who spoke to the NYT. The Ringer recognised its union shortly before the Spotify sale went through last year, but collective bargaining negotiations have since stalled, with this issue of outside contractors one sticking point.

Finally, something else to note: this piece includes an allegation that Bill Simmonds has personally shown his opposition to the union by unfollowing members on Twitter and not tweeting their work (he didn’t comment for the article). Apparently, his 5.7 million followers are “a significant source of web traffic” for The Ringer — a reminder of how reliant the company still is on his personal profile despite the acquisition and all the expansion.One to watch. From Current: Race discrimination suit against NPR gets go-ahead in court.Glow tries referrals. Glow, which to date has been one of the players in the membership platform / private podcast feed game, has launched a new beta called Refer-O-Matic. It’s a tracking system that provides a podcast’s listeners with traceable links to share and facilitates rewards when participants hit recommendation milestones. Founder and CEO Amira Valliani has written about the move here, explaining that it’s a response to the constant requests from podcasters to help them grow their audiences as well as monetising them. She also cites the Morning Brew newsletter’s referral success as an inspiration. Glow’s referral beta is priced at $20 a month.

I have a longstanding interest in all the facets of this area of podcasting endeavour, I’ll be following this scheme to see what kind of uptake and returns it brings. As a sidenote, I find the apparently tried and tested success of referral schemes a reassuringly nostalgic thing: the podcast industry might have changed a lot quite quickly in the last year or so, but people still love merch and limited edition collectibles like challenge coins are still an intrinsic part of how this whole medium functions.A YouTube for audio. A new streaming platform, Vurbl, launched this week. The playbook might look a bit familiar to veteran observers in this space: founder and CEO Audra Gold has been quoted saying that “the podcast is very archaic” and the venture has been positioned as the “YouTube of audio”. This moniker refers to the fact that anyone can upload audio to the platform and then monetise it via real-time programmatic ads.

Oh, and podcasts might not only appear on the platform just as their creators originally intended: Gold also said in that dot.la piece that “we’re finding the good parts of podcasts and clipping them into playlists.” Vurbl doesn’t quite yet have the spending power that Luminary had at launch, however: the pre-seed round closed in September at $1.3 million.

Reminder: as covered in yesterday’s Insider, YouTube itself just announced that it is launching audio-only advertising.More awards. The Tribeca Film Festival is adding a podcast category for its 2021 awards cycle. Categories will include fiction and narrative nonfiction, audio stories and podcasts, according to Deadline, and no, I’m not sure why podcasts are a separate category as well.Amazon roll out. Amazon Music is still rolling out its podcast element to new territories: this week, Mexico and Brazil. There’s also a suggestion that original Amazon audio production will be coming to these places soon.Fairytale’s over. I thought readers elsewhere might be interested to dive into what has undoubtedly been the biggest radio related story in the UK this week: the BBC’s decision to play different versions of The Pogues’ Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York” on its different radio stations. BBC Radio 1 will play a version provided by the record company that has homophobic and misogynistic language removed, while BBC Radio 2 will play the original and BBC Radio 6 Music is leaving it up to each presenter to decide which one they will broadcast.

All manner of stories about censorship spun out in relation to this move, and the coverage was extensive enough that the BBC was forced to put out a statement denying that it had edited the song itself or was banning it from the airwaves. For those unfamiliar with the different listener demographics across the three stations that have prompted this inconsistent approach, this panel in the Guardian provides some helpful insights.